Bear rescue season follows tsunami
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, March 2005:
AGRA, CHENGDU–Wildlife SOS founder Kartick Satyanarayan
spent most of the first two months of 2005 often literally up to his
hips in post-tsunami swamp water and sometimes displaced salt water
crocodiles, gorged on human remains. Still, Satyanarayan did not
forget that his primary objective for the year was to rescue sloth
bears and jail the poachers who supply cubs to dancing bear trainers
“Kartick has been madly rushing from tsunami work in the
Andaman Islands and Tamil Nadu to anti-poaching work, as this is the
peak season for bear cub poaching,” Friendicoes SECA shelter manager
Geeta Seshamani told ANIMAL PEOPLE. “We have managed four raids
between all the other work and rescued nine tiny cubs and six
slightly older cubs at locations in Orissa, Karna-taka, and
Wildlife SOS originally partnered with Friendicoes SECA to
rescue animals from the streets of Delhi. Friendicoes SECA handles
dogs, cats, and other domestic species; Wildlife SOS responds to
calls about urban wildlife, mostly snakes and monkeys.
Starting in 1996, Wildlife SOS and Friendicoes SECA built
India’s first sanctuary for dancing bears, 17 kilometres from Agra,
backed by International Animal Rescue of the U.S. and Britain, Save
The Bears of Australia, One Voice of France, and the World Society
for the Protection of Animals.
Fielding animal rescue teams after the 2001 Gujarat
earthquake and December 2004 tsunami were their next joint ventures.
Interdicting the bear traffic went on all the while,
including a February 5 sting operation in Hubli, Karnataka, that
seized five bear cubs and brought the arrests of seven alleged
poachers and smugglers. Hubli-Dharwad City Police Commissioner K.V.
Gagandeep told the Deccan Herald that the suspects trapped bears in
the thick jungles of Kalghatgi, in the Dharwad district, and in the
forests of Uttara Kannada. Often they killed the mother bear,
Gagandeep said, in order to take the two-to-three-week-old cubs.
The poachers sold the cubs to smugglers for less than $700
each. The smugglers’ markets were said to be in Pakistan, reached
via clandestine routes from Gujarat or Punjab; Nepal, accessed
through Bihar or Uttar Pradesh; and Thailand, which might have been
a relay point for sending them to regions of Southeast Asia, notably
China, where bear parts are believed to have medicinal value.
Bears sent to Pakistan are typically pitted against dogs in
baiting exhibitions. Bear-baiting is illegal in Pakistan, and has
been illegal under strict Islamic law since the time of Mohammed
himself, but is still practiced in much of Central Asia, wherever
law enforcement is weak or corrupt and bears are available. When the
bears are killed or die from neglect and infected wounds, their
remains are bootlegged to China.
Ashok & Julie
The “bear rescue season” for Wildlife SOS actually started
about 10 days before the tsunami, when two bears named Ashok and
Julie arrived at the Agra Bear Rescue Centre after a 17-hour journey
from a small zoo in Goa to Agra, where they had been housed for
about a month after the Goa Forest Department seized them from two
dancing bear trainers.
The trainers, brothers and members of the Kalandar clan,
entered Goa from Karnataka. The Kalandars have trained bears since
the Middle Ages, and appear to be ancestrally related to the gypsy
bear trainers of eastern Europe.
Because no one at the zoo knew how to look after bears,
suspect Imam Saabu was employed as their caretaker, but in custody,
Satyanar-ayan said, “The bears were not getting any exercise and the
heavy brass ring and the rope through their muzzle started affecting
their health. They were losing condition, and their muzzles began
to bleed and get infected.”
Wildlife SOS spent a week treating their infections before
deciding they could withstand transport.
“Ashok is three years old and Julie is five years old,”
Satyanarayan told ANIMAL PEOPLE. “Ashok is a very philosophical
bear, who has all his teeth. Julie on the other hand is more
irritable, as she has suffered longer and perhaps had a more cruel
Satyanarayan renamed them “John” and “Jo,” after John and Jo
Hicks of International Animal Rescue, who initiated their move to
the Agra Bear Rescue Facility.
“Our experience shows that these bears will settle down very
quickly at the rescue facility,” said wildlife veterinarian Arun A.
Sha, “and in direct contrast to their long years of suffering, they
will very soon learn to play and enjoy life like real bears.”
Bile farm bears
Animals Asia Foundation founder Jill Robinson spent much of
the first half of January 2005 helping with tsunami relief work,
chiefly in Thailand, but returned to the Animals Asia China Bear
Rescue Sanctuary in Chengdu to supervise the mid-January arrival of
another 46 ex-bile farm moon bears, raising the sanctuary total of
rescued bears to 185.
One bear came from Laoning state, far to the north. The
others arrived from elsewhere in Sichuan state, in groups of 11 and
34, on January 17 and 18. Their transport and unloading were
complicated by freezing rain.
Most of the bears “are brought to us by the Sichuan Forestry
Administration. They pay the farmers compensation. Their licences
are then revoked and the farms closed down,” Robinson told reporters.
While Sichuan now discourages bile farming, “The rescued
animals represent only a small percentage of the estimated 7,000-plus
bears held on over 200 bile farms across China,” Robinson reminded.
As usual, the bears were transported in the cages into which
they had been wedged since their abdomens were first tapped for bile,
hardly larger than their own bodies.
“Hooting pitifully into the night and beside themselves with
fear and pain, cubs, middle-aged, and elderly bears presented
graphic evidence against the farmers’ claims that their new methods
of bile extraction are humane,” said Robinson.
“The Animals Asia veterinary team, led by Dr. Gail Cochrane,
discovered that a fake ‘free dripping’ technique of bile extraction
is now used,” Robinson continued. “Rather than [tapping the bears’
bile through] a fistula, or hole in the abdomen, which was
previously lauded as a state-of-the-art technique but which has in
reality been killing bears in huge numbers, the farmers are now
inserting a clear plastic catheter which is almost impossible to see,
unless the abdomen is shaved and examined close-up.”
The new technique is illegal, but appeared to have been used
on most of the recent arrivals.
“In addition,” said Cochrane, “the farmers continue to
de-claw the bears, cut away their canine teeth, and trap them from
the wild.” The evidence of illegal trapping included limb injuries
and sometimes missing limbs, as result of capture with
spring-powered steel-jawed leghold traps or heavy cable snares. The
traps tend to cause more severe immediate trauma, but the snares
cause loss of circulation to an entire limb.
To help discourage the use of bear bile, and to promote
animal welfare generally, Animals Asia Foundation representatives
visited student environmental protection groups from high-schools and
universities across China during the summer of 2004, “and were so
moved by the enthusiasm of the students that we decided to set up
‘Friends of Animals Asia’ China Support Groups,” Animals Asia
Foundation U.K. director Dave Neale announced in February 2005.
The Animals Asia Foundation “is supplying support groups with
event related materials such as display boards, newsletters,
educational packs about traditional Chinese medicine, most of which
relies on herbal rather than animal products, and Mandarin versions
of our China Bear Rescue….the beginning and Dr. Eddie: Friend or
Food? videos,” Neale explained.
The Dr. Eddie video, also available in an English version,
tells the story of a dog whom Robinson rescued from a live meat
market in Guangdong. Eddie is now part of the Animals Asia
Foundation Dr. Dog therapy program in Hong Kong, one of numerous Dr.
Dog programs started around Southeast Asia to help raise appreciation
After showing Eddie on the job, helping humans, the video
incorporates black-and-white footage of violent handling of dogs and
cats throughout the Guangdong market where Robinson bought him. Many
of the scenes show enough background to demonstrate that the
incidents in the foreground are not unusual, but are the norm–even
with westerners present.
“So far, we have support groups at Beijing Chinese Medicine
University, Jiang Chinese Medicine University, Guang Xi Chinese
Medicine University, and the Environmental Support Group of Shan Xi
Already, Neale said, “Students from the Beijing Chinese
Medicine University held a series of China Bear Rescue photo
exhibitions and collected signatures of support from three high
schools in Beijing. Students from the Green Power Society at Zhe
Jiang University rolled out a series of exhibitions and promotional
activities to 15 high schools,” featuring lectures by Green Power
members who had visited the China Bear Rescue Center.